NHL decides its digital future is with MLB - The Buffalo News

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NHL decides its digital future is with MLB

NHL fans should be thrilled by the news in recent days that the league is partnering with MLB Advanced Media. Baseball is the leader in streaming and in Web products among the major sports. Hockey’s Web offerings are pedestrian at best. The MLB Network is a blueprint of how to keep your sport on the minds of your fans for 365 days a year, a far cry from the embarrassingly low level of production and programming of the NHL Network.

That should all change starting in 2016 as part of a groundbreaking six-year deal. While numerous reports said the deal was worth $1.2 billion, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman insists that number was high. Nonetheless, it’s a complete game-changer for hockey fans along the lines of what we’ve seen with baseball the last 10-12 years.

Think of how you consume baseball. Just like hockey, you have your national television packages and your regional networks. And many of us have the Extra Innings package on cable or satellite (Memo to Rob Manfred: You still need to fix the absurd and archaic blackout rules).

I would like to see the NHL include mobile streaming as part of its Center Ice package, just like MLB does with Extra Innings. You no longer pay extra to get games on mobile devices in baseball; the NHL has not included its often-clunky GameCenter Live when you subscribe to the TV package.

But go mobile now: MLB.TV is just flat-out super on your laptop or iPad. Full HD. Both teams’ broadcasts. Integration of box scores. Highlights from earlier innings. Same for the MLB At Bat app on your iPhone. You can see all the key plays of any game shortly after they happen.

In hockey, the NHL app is lifeless at times. Highlights on team websites too often lag during games. And a 15-second clip often runs after a 30-second ad. It’s frustrating beyond belief. You can’t follow a game on GameCenter Live and social media at the same time because the video lags well behind real-time.

The deal will have MLB taking over NHL.com and all the teams’ individual websites. It will have MLB running the NHL Network and the possibilities there are endless. “Quick Pitch” and “MLB Tonight” are must-see shows every day on MLB Network. On the hockey side, “NHL Live,” “NHL on the Fly” and “NHL Tonight” are shows you have to see but the production levels are outright amateurish and not close to the level of the solid on-air talent the NHL Network has.

And the NHL Network basically goes dark for the summer after free agency ends. Just reruns of old games with no live programming whatsoever. In 2015, that’s simply embarrassing. You would think that will quickly change with the network moving to MLB Network headquarters in Secaucus, N.J.

As for fans in arenas, I can see something like the MLB.com Ballpark app coming to life for NHL fans, giving them better access to arena info, concessions, merchandise. The possibilities are endless.

It’s good to see the NHL accept that it had fallen far behind in these ancillary areas that can bring the league huge revenues and provide even closer connections to its fans. Baseball has been the leader for more than a decade. Good call to join with the best.

Hessman a real-life Crash

All props to former Bisons slugger Mike Hessman, who became the real-life Crash Davis last week in Toledo. Hessman’s grand slam against Lehigh Valley was his 433rd home run in the minor leagues, breaking the mark of 432 set by Buzz Arlett from 1918-37. It was his 288th in the International League, extending his league mark set last year.

Hessman, 37, has played only 109 games in the big leagues for Detroit, Atlanta and the Mets and his last stint was with New York in 2010 after getting called up from the Bisons. He has a .188 career average with 14 homers in the big leagues. He entered the weekend batting .223 for Toledo with 16 homers and 50 RBIs after averaging 29 homers the last three years.

Hessman batted .274 with 18 homers and 58 RBIs for the Bisons in just 64 games in 2010. He regularly tormented them when he played for Richmond, homering in all four games of a 2002 series here and belting a first-inning grand slam that sent the R-Braves on their way to an 11-4 win over the Herd in Game One of the 2004 IL finals eventually won by Buffalo in four games.

The rumbling is that Hessman is getting set to call it a career. He’s a total pro. With the Tigers going nowhere, it would be great to see them give him a shot in Detroit in September for a few more at-bats in the big leagues.

Legend of Luke turns 100

Last Tuesday would have been the 100th birthday of Bisons legend Luke Easter, whose No. 25 is one of three retired numbers on the left-field fence at Coca-Cola Field. Easter was born on Aug. 4, 1915, and died in 1979 in Cleveland at 63. He was murdered by two robbers while carrying payroll cash for the Cleveland aerospace company that employed him after his playing days.

Easter arrived in Buffalo at age 41 in 1956 and led the International League in both home runs and RBIs in 1956 (35-106) and 1957 (40-128). He remains third on the franchise’s all-time list in home runs (114), behind only Ollie Carnegie and Bill Kelly, and sixth in RBIs at 353.

That ’57 campaign remains Buffalo’s last 40-homer season by a Triple-A player (Rick Lancellotti had 41 for the Double-A Bisons in 1979). It’s a feat that will almost certainly never be equaled. These days, of course, no parent club would leave a guy in Triple-A long enough to go deep that many times in a season.

Easter hit perhaps the most famous home run in Buffalo baseball history on June 14, 1957, when he became the first batter ever to clear the center-field scoreboard at Offermann Stadium. The Bisons gave away an Easter bobblehead in June to celebrate the home run and his 100th birthday. Members of Easter’s family were on hand and took a group picture by his number on the left-field fence.

Upon Easter’s death, here’s what longtime News Sports Editor and columnist Larry Felser wrote on Big Luke’s place in Buffalo sports: “Before there was O.J. Simpson, Gilbert Perreault and Bob McAdoo, there was Luke Easter.”

Parks and prices

I took some vacation time recently, so do you think I headed for the beach? Of course not. Off to the ballpark, attending games as a paying customer at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, St. Louis’ Busch Stadium and the Rogers Centre in Toronto. All fine experiences for the fan, although the tightness of the seats and lack of elevation on the 100 level in Toronto was a surprise and thus made the next’s day perch in the 200 level a better choice.

My main takeaway was easy: I don’t ever want to read another tweet or email griping about concession prices at Bisons games. Not after $14 chicken finger plates and $9 large sodas. Kansas City, with some of the most reasonable ticket prices you’ll see, just had stunningly sky-high concession charges.

Around & About

• Former UB catcher Tom Murphy has made it to Triple-A in the Rockies system, moving to Albuquerque in the Pacific Coast League. He entered the weekend batting .261 with two homers and six RBIs in 11 games after batting .249 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs in 72 games at Double-A New Britain. A third-round pick in 2012, Murphy played for Team USA in the Pan American Games in Toronto. His manager was former Colorado bench boss Jim Tracy.

“He’s a very good defensive catcher,” Tracy said of Murphy to the Denver Post. “He’ll play in the major leagues.”

• Twins outfielder Torii Hunter to Minnesota reporters on the Blue Jays’ power displays: “The way they hit the ball is just unbelievable. I mean, they hit the ball, it sounds like car crashes.”

• Mets manager Terry Collins, surveying the Citi Field media interview room after Wilmer Flores’ walk-off home run in the 12th inning beat the Nationals two days after the young shortstop cried on the field thinking he was traded to Milwaukee: “I’m going to tell you, I’m sitting here looking at some guys who are outstanding writers. Outstanding. You can’t write that. You guys couldn’t come up with that. And you’re good. But that’s unbelievable.”

• Wild Elias Sports nugget: When Dodgers ace Zack Greinke won Thursday at Philadelphia, he became the first pitcher in more than 66 years to get a victory in a game in which he allowed five or more runs before recording an out. The last one to do that was Brooklyn’s Ralph Branca in a 17-10 victory over Pittsburgh on June 25, 1949. Greinke gave up five runs in the first but homered later in the game as the Dodgers rallied to win, 10-8.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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